Salies-de Bearne to St Jean Pied-de-Port

Tuesday 28 August 2012
Hotel les Pyrenees, St Jean Pied-de-Port
on the Spanish border
54.8 km, 2.55 hrs, 18.8 kph, 0935 – 1330
640 m rise

Our day continued across ridges, up and down long hills all day. The landscape was incredibly beautiful,  verdant and green, obviously gets rain, well-maintained farms and towns. Lots of blond cows looking at us (one was looking at Olin on his dinner plate last night).

St Jean Pied-de-Port is busy with tourists and pilgrims signing up for the walk to Santiago de Compostella. If you get your shell you can stay in the little refugios along the way. Apostates like us are not quite with the program. Over 39,000 pilgrims registered here in St Jean last year.

We ate at our hotel, and the dinner was perfect. The best we have ever had.  (Note from a couple of days later – Olin looked up the restaurant and discovered it’s a Michelin one star. No wonder it was outstanding.)

Long uphill tomorrow. Olin thinks no problem. I think it will be hard.

Sabres to Salies-de-Bearn

27 August 2012
Salies-de-Bearn, Hotel du Parc (casino hotel)
94.38 km, 4 hrs 49 mins, 19.6 kph, 0850 – 1600

Route: D14 to Arengosse and Tartas and our morning tea, D7 and cross-country roads to Puyoo, main road to Salies-de-Bearn

The proprietress of the Auberge directed us down the D14 to get to Tartas, saving us a couple of km and giving us another look at the semi-arid sand and pine landscape of the Landes. It is flat flat flat, very easy cycling with the wind at our sides and the weather warm.

After Tartas, it changed quickly. The countryside is a series of long ridges, and it’s up and over for each of them. Things became greener and more lush, the farms look prosperous and, as the day progressed, the landscapes became spectacular.

We had lunch at Montfort en Chalosse. Olin warned me that I might not be that wild about our choice. Seeing only the salads, it all seemed pretty good to me. Then came the Boudin Noir, our main course. Blood sausage. Black pudding. Ouch. It squeezed gentle out of its casings and mixed nicely with the mashed potatoes. I managed to eat some, actually quite tasty, but hard to take too much.

The cross country route in the pm was too hard. Very steep hills. I would not recommend it. So at the end of the day we took the last long hot hill up the carefully engineered main road. At 36 degrees and a full day’s travel, we were ready to stop.

During the afternoon, we got our first look at the Pyrenees, far in the distance. We draw ever closer.

Salies-de-Bearn is a historic hot springs town with faded and deserted glory. The old hotel de France is a ruin worthy of most horror movies, astonishing that it is standing. Our old hotel is supported by a casino, hard to tell how it is doing as it seems completely empty.

We swam in the salt pools  – last time we enjoyed pools like them on this trip was at the Temple Gardens Hotel in Moose Jaw Sask. That was a few years ago.

Bordeaux to Sabres

26 August 2012
Auberge les pines,  Sabres France
92 km, 4 hrs, 22.7kph, 0830 – 1430

Route today: S from Bordeaux to Saucats on D651, Villagrains on D 651, continued on D651 thru Hostens to Belhade; D120 to Moustey, then D834 through Pissos, Trensacq, to Sabres.

Easy cycling today out of Bordeaux and through the flat and sandy Landes de Gascogne. Crop of choice today is pine trees.

Trying to figure out how to get to Madrid in next 8 days without killing ourselves. Decided that a stop in Sabres wouldn’t interfere with that plan, as the alternative was 2 long days to St Jean Pied de Port, with the massive hill that follows.

The eco-museum in Sabres takes visitors on a short train ride then an eco-walk to look at the unique environment here in Landes de Gascogne. It’s all sand, with unusual plants and trees. The boutique was full of books on the area, people have a lot of pride in their local heritage.  We only got as far as our nose through the door, but I would have liked to have learned more about the landscape we are travelling though.

Dinner in the Auberge.

St Emilion to Bordeaux

25 August 2012
Grand Hotel de Bordeaux, Bordeaux France
42.11 km, 3 hrs, 18 kph

Route: D44 to Libourne, D20 to St Germaine, D241 into Bordeaux

We were fretting a bit about the weather today (well, I was fretting) due to gloomy forecast of heavy winds and rains. But they all went somewhere else and we went on some lovely rolling country roads into Bordeaux.

Last 20 km or so there were bike paths to bring us in, over the pont St Pierre and into beautiful central Bordeaux. They’ve worked hard in the last few years to make the city shine, and shine it does in the central area, although the neighbourhoods coming in are drab.

Most of the French towns and cities have the centres closed off for walking streets, but they like the auto-bollards which the select can get through. Olin likes watching them go up and down, hoping they’ll catch someone unawares. They never do.

Now ensconced in the Grand Hotel and having a grand time. Dinner at the Bourse, restaurant La Gabriel.

Angoulême to St Emilion, nr Bordeaux

Friday 24 August 2012
Hotel Palais Cardinal, St Emilion, France
101.71 km, 5hrs 10 mins, 19.7 kph

Route today: D674 to Chalais (lunch) and Coutras, D17 to St Emilion

When we decided to go to Bordeaux, we looked up “most beautiful village near Bordeaux”, and Google, ever-helpful, gave us the reply: St Emilion. So St Emilion it was, and here we are.

Long day’s ride, very slow leaving Angoulême for some reason – the road was hilly and took us a long time to get going. The D roads vary in traffic, but today it was fine – some heavy vehicles but not oppressive. We even had some rain, taking shelter behind some of our favourite country furniture – garbage bins and electric substation.

Lunch in the small town of Chalais, sitting on the square, and enjoying life.

Towards the end of the day we reached the start of the great vineyards of Bordeaux. The vineyards are green and the area is prosperous, with the chateaux beckoning people in to sample their wines.

Appellation, region, domain, vineyards, and labels – it comes to thousands of varieties of Bordeaux wine. They’re good at protecting their brand – and you can see it in the well-kept buildings and properties. The streets are paved with wine.

St Emilion is a UNESCO world heritage site. The buildings are carved into the limestone, including the church. We retired to a lovely enclosed field and drank a bottle of the local Bordeaux crement (champagne), it would be ungrateful not to sample the local wares.

Dinner on the patio of our little hotel. Doesn’t get better than this.

Angoulême, France

Angouleme

Thursday 23 August 2012
Rest day, Angoulême

Good tourists that we were, we followed the tour route around the ramparts and through the old buildings of the city.

I thought a Maroq dinner would be good, so we went to the rather quiet Maroq restaurant in the busy restaurant street. The flavours were outstanding, the Maroq pinot gris very good, and my stomach roiled all night long. Not sure what the problem was… but the lambs were dancing about.

Poitiers to Angoulême, France

Old mill

Wednesday 22 August 2012
Angoulême France, Hotel France Mercure
125.66 km, 6 hrs, 22kph to foot of hill

Route today: D741 to Gencay, D1 to Civray and Ruffec, then country roads following railway into Angoulême

Easy fast cycling first part of day, with warm weather and breeze at our backs. Only interrupted when Olin thought we should take a lovely bike route. Lovely bike routes consume time, energy and equanimity, especially when they dump you onto tiny tracks through forests.

Lunch in Ruffec, which was full of Brits. Apparently the region is popular with ex-pats and especially in the villages more than the cities. The women next to us advertised Bordeaux, so it’s to Bordeaux we will go.

We were slower in the afternoon as we picked our way through the country roads. Wayfinding takes more time but the riding is beautiful and the roads are safer. On the rolling hills, tired, hungry, and thirsty, we are very happy to be on the road.

Angoulême is an old city on high fortifications. The Garmin brought us up a grade we could barely push our bikes up, but in fact there is a perfectly reasonable hill you can cycle up into the old town. Garmin doesn’t do well in tiny walled streets – took us some time to find our hotel, the tourism, the next hotel… But it’s pretty nice here and we’re not complaining.

We had a huge and delicious dinner. The whole town is out on the warm evenings. Not enough tables? Just haul some more out onto the sidewalk. Would that we could be so relaxed in Vancouver.

Olin tucking in

Beautiful countryside